Monday, 13 February 2012

Trayne Roste - A Fifteenth Century English Spit Cake

Trdelník, sometimes called chimney cake because of its hollow cylindrical form

If you have ever been to Prague at Christmas time you will almost certainly have visited the wonderful Christmas fair held in the Old Town Square. Although it is always pretty cold at this time of year, street vendors selling hot punch, spit roast ham and a host of other Bohemian street foods, offer plenty of opportunities to warm up by the fires at their stalls while you enjoy their wares. One hot delicacy which I particularly love is Trdelník, a spit roasted cake which is one of the most fascinating foods on offer. This is made with a sweetened yeast dough, which is spiralled round a metal cylinder, rolled in sugar and spices and then rotated rapidly over hot charcoal. The sugar caramelises on the outside making the crust of the Trdelník very crispy. It is delicious.

Trdelník is closely related to Kürtőskalács, an ancient chimney cake which has been made in Hungary for a long time and which is said to have originated in Transylvania. Many other European countries have cakes which are also baked on specialised spits in front of a fire. In Austria there is Prügelkrapfen, Germany has Baumkuchen, Sweden SpettekakaFrance gateau à la broche, which is closely related to the Šakotis of Lithiania and the sękacz of Poland, both used to celebrate Christmas and at weddings. And there are others. There is a recipe for baumkuchen in Marx Rumpoldt's Ein new Kochbuch (Frankfort: 1589). And Conrad Hagger in Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (Augsburg: 1719) gives an illustration of a specialist spit fitted with a wooden cone for making the sensational Hapsburg pyramidal spit cake.below.

But what about Britain? Well I am afraid that just about the only thing that you will see rotating on a spit nowadays in this country is a doner kebab. There are no contemporary spit cakes. Which is a sad state of affairs, since the British were once famed throughout Europe for the quality of their spit cookery. However, at one time there was an English spit cake, probably the most unusual in the whole of Europe. Sadly it has been extinct since the days of the Plantagenet monarchs. There are a number of recipes in some fifteenth century court cookery books. It was usually called a trayne roste, though there is a variant called a hastelet of fruit. The recipe below is from Harl. Ms. 4016 in the British Library. It dates from about 1420.

Take Dates and figges, and kutte hem in a peny brede; And þeñ take grete reysons and blanched almondes, and prik hem thorgh with a nedel into a threde of a mannys length, and one of one frute and a-noþer of anoþer frute; and þeñ bynde the threde with the frute A-bought a rownde spete, endelonge þe spete, in maner of an hasselet; And þeñ take a quarte of wyne or Ale, and fyne floure, And make batur thereof, and cast thereto pouder ginger, sugur, & saffroñ, pouder of Clowes, salt; And make þe batur not fully rennyng, and noþer stonding, but in þe mene, that hit may cleue, and than rost the treyne abought the fire in þe spete; And þeñ cast the batur oñ the treyne as he turneth abought the fire, so longe til þe frute be hidde in the batur; as þou castest þe batur there-on, hold a vessell vndere-nethe, for spilling of þe batur/ And whan hit is y-rosted well, hit wol seme a hasselet; And þeñ take hit vppe fro þe spit al hole, And kut hit in faire peces of a Spañ length, And serue of hit a pece or two in a dissh al note.

I recently roasted a trayne roste for the Hairy Bikers, a popular television food programme produced for the BBC. For those who would like to see in detail the very interesting process of making this extraordinary cake, here is the video below. 


  1. Ivan, several of the early recipes for the trayne roste are named "Hasteletes on fysshe day", so sort of a vegetarian Kokoretsi. Do you think that it was seen as a non-meat alternative or was eaten outwith this context? Does it appear in any of the lists of Royal/noble feasts?

  2. Adam, that is a very astute observation. In a number of early cookery texts such as The Forme of Cury (c.1390), Liber Cure Cocurum (1430) and in Mrs Alexander Napier's transcription of A Noble Booke of Cookery (c1460), there are recipes for hasteletes of fruit or hastelettes for fysshe days. These are in fact types of trayne roste. The word hastelet had a number of culinary meanings, but in this case it signifies the entrails of an animal. The entrails or hastelets of a hog were frequently wound around a small spit, which was also sometimes called a hastelet - thus the later term hatelet skewer.

    Here are two of these early recipes -

    Hasteletes on fysshe day.

    Take fyggus quartle, and raysyns, þo
    Hole dates, almondes, rine hom also
    On broche of irne, and rost hom sone;
    Endore hom with yolkes of egges anon. (From Liber Cure Cocurum)

    Hastolettes on fisshe days

    To mak hastolettes on fisshe dais tak figges
    quartered and raissins dates and almondes
    then rost them on an irne broche and endore
    them withe yolks of egges and serue them. From (A Noble Booke of Cookery)

    It is quite likely that these dishes were counterfeit entrail dishes designed for days when meat was not allowed.

    There may be others, but the only bill of fare that I have so far found with trayne roste included in the meal is very interestingly a feast for a fish day, which supports your theory. The feast was in honour of a Lord de la Grey, possibly Lord Reginald Grey of Ruthyn who waited on Henry IV at his coronation in 1399. the date of the feast is unknown.

    Entrails roasted over the coals or in front of the fire do not feature much these days in Britain, but it was once a great favourite. Pepys was very fond of the dish - "A good hog's harslet, a piece of meat I love.' In the Balkans and the Levant, where it is known as kukurec, it is a very popular dish for the barbecue. I remember once seeing κοκορέτσι on a menu in a taverna in Crete. The English translation on the menu was simply 'guts'!

    Here is Lord de la Grey's bill of fare for his meatless convivium from Ms. Harl.279. The trayne roste is in the second course.

    Conuiuium domini de la Grey.

    Le .j. cours.

    Rys Moleyn.
    Vyaunde bruyse.
    Bakunde Heryng.
    Gros Salt fysshe.
    Salt Samoun.
    Salt Elys.
    Fryid Marlyng.
    Grete Pyke.
    Bakyn Elys.

    Le .ij. cours.

    Brode canelle.} Potage
    Plays fryid.
    Trayne Roste.
    Vn Lechemete.

    Le .iij. cours.

    Creme of Almaundys.
    Elys & Lamprouns Rostyd.
    Breme de Mere.
    Pyuenade in paste.
    Leche lumbarde.

  3. So if the main role of the trayne roste was as counterfeit entrail dish on non-feast days, I guess this tells us some interesting details of these dishes. The medieval hastelets of a hog must have looked very similar to the extant kukurec/kokoretsi, not like the modern English Haslet, which is now more like a giant baked faggot.

    Also as an imitation dish it would have been very susceptible to the whims of fashion. It seems to me that there is a degree of whimsy to this dish, much like the "Yrchon" ("Urchin" = Hedgehog; stuffed hog stomach covered in paste prickles, roasted on a spit and endored) dish from the same period that also didn't last.

    Finally, is it really related to the other European spit cakes, other then in use of a smilar culinary technique? As an immatation dish it could be an independent development?

  4. I suspect that the evolution of hastelets of fruyte and trayne roste took place independently in medieval Britain. Continental spit cakes are very different. As far as I know there is no trayne roste-like dish that has survived in continental Europe. Nor or there any recipes included in medieval and early modern period continental cookery literature. However, I have only searched through French, Italian and Spanish sources and that search has hardly been exhaustive. If any readers of this blog know of recipes for a dish like trayne roste in cookery texts in other European languages I would love to hear from you.

    In the hastelet recipes quoted above, the cook is instructed 'to endore them withe yolks of egges.' This was a common technique used to finish spit roast meat in a layer of spicy, saffron flavoured yellowish batter. The practice seems to have been so commonplace, that endoring batters were probably stock ingredients in most high status kitchens. The endoring batter in the recipe below is pretty well identical to the batter for coating the trayne roste quoted in the posting. Since this batter was usually used for coating meat dishes, most diners probably got the joke when they ate a trayne roste.

    Chike endored.

    Take a chike, and drawe him, and roste him, And lete the fete be on, and take awey the hede; then make batur of yolkes of eyron and floure, and caste there-to pouder of ginger, and peper, saffron and salt, and pouder hit faire til hit be rosted ynogh.

    From Harl. Ms. 4016

  5. I was browsing a vintage home magazine site and ran across this; thought you might be interested. Plus ca change, and all.

  6. Thanks Shay. This cake technique must have been brought to Chicago by a European baker. It is very similar to many of the different spit cakes made in Northern Europe, which I mention in the post.